Have kids; will travel! Tips for traveling with small children

My husband and I are fresh off an eight-day trip to California with our two small children: Jack (almost 3) and Cora (5 months). To answer the question I recently posed (Adventurous or just plain crazy?), I’d say we are a little of both.

The trip was HARD.

The trip was AWESOME!

I’m happy to share what I learned.  I hope my experience makes your future travels easier!

10 Tips for Traveling with Small Children

Weigh all your travel options carefully!

What length trip is the tipping point for your kids and your wallet between driving or flying? If flying is the only logical choice (i.e. our California trip), what is the value of a shorter itinerary for you? We decided $60 more per ticket for the direct flight to San Francisco was worth it. Pre-children, we would have added hours to our itinerary to save even a little money. But post-children, we know the flight can be the hardest part of the trip. With a direct itinerary, we knew we only had to get our kids plus assorted paraphernalia on and off one airplane. Best money we spent on this trip!

Bungee cords are your friend.

Rather than rent car seats in California, we opted to bring ours. We wanted Jack to be in his car seat on the plane so he could sleep easier. Rather than checking Cora’s car seat all the way through, we felt that gate checking it would mean gentler handling. To get both seats through the airport, we relied on our rolling carry-on and three bungee cords. In past trips with our stroller, we’ve bungee-corded many things, including our child (for a short distance!) Best item to slip in your suitcase!

Know how you will be transporting your child once you arrive.

Make a decision about car seats, but also about how your child will be doing his/her sightseeing. We knew Cora would be seeing San Francisco via her Ergo carrier, which we knew she loves.  The place where we were staying had a stroller we could use for Jack. If it hadn’t, we would have brought ours. Jack likes to be a big boy and walk, but the days we didn’t have a stroller with us were much more challenging than the days we did. High energy, happy Jack running ahead of us would quickly fade to tired, grumpy Jack being dragged along. Make sure there is a mode of transport that each child likes!

Pack light.

This was hard for me because my practical side knows that clothes quickly get dirty (spit-up, food, pee, you name it) and my impractical side likes to dress my children up. However, my über-practical husband prevailed and we each took just two pairs of pants and limited tops, with plans to wash clothes. This reduced our luggage to two suitcases making every transition of the trip easier.

Pack toys.

This might seem at odds with the above recommendation, but toys are more valuable than clothes in this scenario! We packed one backpack for Jack containing a small bag that he filled with his favorite LEGOs.  I picked our lightest books (think paperbacks or Little Golden Books), and Jack chose which ones to bring. Together, we flipped through activity books and ripped out pages to bring (rather than bringing a full book), along with a few markers.  Every toy was well used, from the airplane to the car to the stroller to restaurants to early morning playtime. We only resorted to TV once during the trip, so I’d say the toy bag was a big success!

Check out VRBO.com.

We knew eight nights in a hotel would not have worked for us.  We are a fan of www.vrbo.com. VRBO = Vacation Rental By Owner. We’ve used the site many times with 100% satisfaction. We found a 2 bedroom apartment with a full kitchen and washer/dryer. This gave us a separate place for Jack to sleep/nap and allowed us to cook breakfast and even a few dinners. We hit up Trader Joe’s and bought some easy things to cook (pasta, oatmeal, etc.) VRBO is also a way to get out of the business districts and into the cool neighborhoods!

Plan your itinerary with everyone’s interests in mind.

The days that went best were a mixture of adult and child fun. A wine tasting followed by a picnic at the park. A scenic drive broken up by stops to walk in the woods and play on the beach. We cut one day short of touristy activities so that Jack and Cora could nap at the apartment, and so I could wander off to a coffee shop alone. We didn’t see as much that day, but I was rejuvenated, they were rested, and Jacob even got to watch holiday football, so a win-win all around.

Don’t over-plan – remember your real reason for traveling!

There was one day that Jack was noticeably grumpy and defiant. At first, I let myself be frustrated (i.e. “I’m going to kill this child!  This is not my definition of fun!”), but then I realized that his and our definition of fun were probably just not the same. The next day, I focused on just trying to enjoy him, and of course, I did!  One of my favorite parts of the trip was wandering around a vineyard that day with Jack and Cora, watching Jack’s imagination entertain him (letting my husband, who likes wine more than I, enjoy the wine tasting). And when Jack discovered he could eat the grapes off the vine without any limit, you couldn’t have found a happier child.

Be social!

We had so much fun meeting up with old friends who were in the area. This added spice to our days (i.e. new adults to talk to!) and just enough of a break from our kids to recharge us (I mean even getting to go to the bathroom alone was nice!)

Ask other mothers for city specific advice!

They will give you restaurant recommendations that you know will be a fit for the whole family, tell you where the best parks are, help you decide between a rental car and public transportation, and give you all the other tips that will make the trip one that fits your FAMILY! Seek them out – this is the time to talk to a friend of a friend!

 Have you traveled with small children? Do you have any other tips you can share?



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